Frontline Journal

Maria Pena
Posted March 18, 2016 from Bolivia

I was only 6 years old when I was marked for ever, literally.

I was crying because I was cold and hungry and my father told me to keep quiet a couple oftimes but I couldn’t. My mom tried to calm me but I just wouldn’t stop crying. My father spanked me and I cried harder and he grew more desperate and mad. He ran to the kitchen, turned the stove on, waited until the burner turned red, grabbed me and put me on top of it. My mother screamed, cried and told him to stop but she never really actually tried to stop him. I think she was afraid of him, too.

A few days later my mom took me to the hospital because my burns were getting infected. That day, they took my parents away from me, they took me to a strange place full of parentless kids and only allowed me to see them during holidays and some weekends.I started to pluck off my eyelashes first, then,the hair ofmy head.I was confused, lonely and sad. I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to learn, talk, make friends, all Iknew was that I wanted to be reunited with my parents… And it turns out they didn’t want me back, it was easier for them to just visit me there until they actually stopped visiting, they stopped coming to get me for holidays, they stopped caring. I became a parentless kid like most of the kids there in the orphanage.

I worked for an orphanage during two years when I wasinhigh school and the story narrated above is the story of a little kid, called Pedro, who despite of being violently abused and burned by his parents he didn't hate them, he still missed them and loved them. At the orphanage Pedrito was disoriented and depressed, he wouldn't talk to anyone and he started to pluck out his eyelashesfrom stress until he had none to plug out anymore. All he wanted to dowas togo back home. After a few months at the orphanage we saw Pedrito evolve and make some progress, he made some friends and got more interested with schoolwork. As time went by, Pedrito’s family stopped visiting him and picking him up for holidays. Pedrito got very affected by this and the progress he had made went down to zero. Every time I saw him, I wanted to cry because I saw a hopeless and traumatized look in the face of this 6-year-old kid. What did he do wrong to deserve this much suffering? Despite all the love and help we tried to provide him, he wasn't happy. After a year and a half at the orphanage Pedrito escaped, probably tolive in the cold streets of El Alto, Bolivia. We tried to find him but we never saw him again.

Pedrito’s story is one of many happening in the world where children end up living in the streets exposed to dangers like human trafficking, alcohol, drugs, and all types of violence, abuse and neglect. Every story is heartbreaking. Most street children are not living on the streets because they want a free life or because they want to, they are living on the streets because of amoral conditions in societies. A survey made to street youth in Bolivia showed that 40% of them are on the streets as a result of physical abuse, 13% as a result mental abuse, 18% due to parental death and 16% because of abandonment and 7% as a result of poverty. [i] In Bolivia, street children sleep in sewers, abandoned buildings, under bridges and eat scraps like dogs. As a consequence, they are dirty, hungry, hurt, ashamed, and hopeless. Many turn to drugs as a coping mechanism. Violence is one of the main causes (53%) why children in Bolivia are surviving in the streets and no one protects them, not even the police. To survive in the streets many become beggars and many others turn to prostitution, stealing, or selling illegal substancesamong other things. This is why the government, the police and society see them as garbage.

It has been frustrating for me to see these children and not be able to change their realities or help them to get out of that cycle of violence, abuse, poverty, stress and abandonment. Since I started to work with the orphanage I have been asking myself howIcanmake a marginal difference in these children's lives? I have realized that the problem is so big that I have to start small, changing lives one or a few at a time. Providing the children who are already in this situation help and opportunities to get out of the streets. More so, I want to fight to prevent these kids from being in situations that obligate them to end up in the streets in the first place. I believe that for this, we need to make parents aware of the influence that domestic violence at home has on their children. A study performed by UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2007, shows that boys who are exposed to domestic violence are twice as likely to become abusive men, and girls who witnessed acts of violence and abuse against themselves or their mothers are twice as likely to tolerate and accept violence in their marriage. [ii] This is how some victims, without even knowing it, transmit violence from generation to generation. Also, children who have been abused or have witnessed domestic violence will have difficulty to learn, socialize, perform well in school and develop close and positive relationships. [ii]

Violence of any type is not justifiable, but especially against children since they are so vulnerable and cannot defend themselves. Most children’s end up in the streets due to some kind of violence. Some become delinquents to survive because everyone else neglects them. These children do not need more punishment; they need society’s help, our help. To help them we need to make their parents aware of the effect that domestic violence has on children and support projects that allow these kids to restore their childhood, have an education, a safe place to sleep and be loved.

Pugoka (Pumping Good Karma) is a step into the solution. We are currently supporting the housing project for street children in El Alto, called Luz de Esperanza. Pugoka is promoting two urgent needs they have at this moment. One, is hiring an elementary school teacher to reinsert the boys into the government school system and the other, is fixing their roof which has leaks. In a village called Vacas in Cochabamba, we are promoting the construction of a bathroom for Delfina, a 24 y.o. girl who was tending to her sheep and unfortunately stepped on a high voltage cable that had fallen on the ground and now suffers from severe sequels that hinder her from living a normal life. Pugoka, wants to care for the forgotten, Pugoka makes visible the invisible and with the good and generous people all around the globe, we will improve the life of millions of Pedritos.

[i] Huang, "A Comparative Analysis of Abandoned Street"

[ii]UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2007

Comments 14

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coolasas
Mar 18, 2016
Mar 18, 2016

Your story resonates all over the world. It is very touching at the same time sad that some children in the streets of Bolivia are a product of home abuse.

When you think that the home is the safest place you can be, protected by the embrace of the people that brought you in this world, you feel happy and light. But that is not the case for many of the children we find in the streets, there and even where I am from.

Keep doing what you are doing, open your arms as wide as you can to share the love you have in your heart. Pray that more people do the same and make a difference in the lives of these children.

Just be ready too to be hurt because love is real when you keep on giving it even though it hurts..

God bless you my dear Maria Fabian :)

Maria Pena
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Dear Coolasas,

Thank you for reading my story. Like you said, home is a place where you should feel safe and protected but that is not the case for many. Let's try to help them in any way we can and spread the word out and make families aware of how much violence at home can affect their children.

Thank you for the quote, I really enjoyed it.

Love,

Maria

ARREY- ECHI
Mar 19, 2016
Mar 19, 2016

Your story resonates around the world and as I read, I couldn't stop thinking of the many street kids I meet daily. Some are like Pedrito abandoned by abusive parents and some run away from abusive homes. It is saddening to watch kids' future destroyed such but it is equally inspiring to see the hands on deck trying to change the stories.

Maria Pena
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Dear Arrey-Echi,

Thank you for enganing in my story.

It is truly heartbreaking to see children in the street being treated as if they are worth nothing :'( I will do what I can to help them.

All the best,

Maria

yvoneakoth
Mar 21, 2016
Mar 21, 2016

Thank you Maria for sharing Pedrito's story. Rarely do we get to hear the story of a child living in an orphanage. It is quite sad though. I wish he would be found. Parents and people running children orphanages need to be empowered. In Africa/Kenya, we have an regional organization known as 'Parenting in Africa'. It is there to guide parents and guardians on how to bring up children. I really wish the same was in Bolivia. It is my prayer that one day Pedrito will be found safe and sound.

Maria Pena
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Dear Yvone,

Thank you for reading my story and for sharing the name of the organization 'Parenting in Africa'. I believe with don't have something exactly like that and I know Bolivias children would benefit a lot from an organization like that. I will definitely keep it in my mind for a project to be :)

Thanks again and I wish you all the best always,

Maria

Elvire
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Dear Maria,

I couldn't help sharing your post on my newly created twitter account. How I wish i could hug Pedrito and tell him it is not his fault if he is hungry or his family is poor. Part of me feels that his father spanked him out of despair, "crushed" by his inability to care for his family. then I wonder if he ever had an opportunity to learn  to respond to adversity and why protecting his loved ones was precious. How did he grow up; did anybody ever teach him how? I don't know. I can only think of this small boy and feel very sad! Causes of children' misfortune are numerous and diverse, but the effects  are just so inacceptable!

We are in the same battle and for sure, change will come.

Please, press on!

Maria Pena
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Dear Elvira,

Thank you so much for reading my story and sharing it.

It was really hard to write this story, for a long time I was angry and hopeless and frustrated with Pedritos situation. With time, that black feeling I had started to evolve into something else, I couldnt do anything now to prevent Pedritos situation but I can do something for other children.  And like you asked, we dont know how Pedritos parents were brought up. Maybe they were raised in violent homes too. Of course, nothing justifies what has been done to Pedrito and what is done is done but this is why I am so compromised to make a change for these children, help those who are in that situation and try to prevent those types of situations.

Love,

Maria

Rahmana Karuna
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Greetings Maria, such a world wide problem. Also personally seeing the effects of parental abuse in hospitals. As the clinician in our local county health department x5 years providing annual exams and birth control, eventually i added to my sexually transmitted disease list-babies. Of course said mostly with humor. As Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood-after decades of arrest for writing and speaking about birth control(illegal until the 1960-70s in the USA), "women should have the right to the number and spacing of children". In the USA, 50% unplanned pregnancies, 50% of those unwanted,only 25% of those unwanted pregnancies are terminated. This is a whole lot of unwanted children in a country where birth control and abortion is mostly legal and frequently no to low cost (if one knows and ability to access.) We all need lots of hugs, nurturing, respect. Keep your spirits up, be the light that draws these children to you for assist and guidance! Rahmana Karuna

Maria Pena
Apr 14, 2016
Apr 14, 2016

Hi Rahmana, 

Thanks again for engaging in my story. 

One of the problems we have is cultural as you may have seen, contraceptives are not well accepted in my country, mostly from lack of education in this matter. I believe that sexual education is the key in this instance.  

Thank you for your support and your beautiful words Rahmana! 

Love, 

Maria 

Hannah B
Mar 23, 2016
Mar 23, 2016

Hi Maria,

Thank you for sharing this story!  It is difficult to think about the harsh realities of abuse and neglect of children, but it is so important - we must come together in our communities to prevent these stories and to suppor the children who are already on the streets or in other dangerous situations.  You are right - much of this violence and pain can be traced to domestic violence, and we need to do more to educate young people to help them identify and avoid abuse.

I look forward to reading more of your writing and to learn more about your future plans!

Best,

Hannah

Maria Pena
Apr 14, 2016
Apr 14, 2016

Hi Hannah, 

Thank you for your comments. I am sorry I am responding just now but for some reason I didn't see the last 3 comments until now. 

Like you said, it is very important to come together to prevent these stories and support those who are already in these type of situations. 

I am currently creating a crowdfunding website called Pugoka and we already have two projects to help street children in Bolivia. The first one is to get funds to pay a primary school teacher for a year to help them level in their school work since many of them have missed school while living in the streets and the governmental schools don’t accept them. The second project is to get funds for the home repairs for the house of 25 street children in El Alto.  You can see the projects here: http://www.pugoka.com/project/

Please let me know what you think!

All the best, 

Maria 

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 28, 2016
Mar 28, 2016

Dear Maria,

You have shared a story that resonates with such powerful expression and imagery. I also shared the pain that you could not find Pedrito. And my brain keeps wondering where he could be and what dangers he may be exposed to on the streets. 

My prayers definitely go out to Pedrito - I hope he encounters love and safety and I hope he succeeds in life. And this is my prayer for all the street kids and children who suffer for no fault of theirs - they just don't deserve it!

Thank you for sharing such a heart-gripping story. And for all the great work that you do, well done!

Warm regards,

Maria Pena
Apr 14, 2016
Apr 14, 2016

Dear Carolyn, 

Thank you for your comments and sorry for the delayed response, I just saw your comment. 

I think of Pedrito all the time and I truly hope he is doing well. Thank you for your prayers and your beautiful words. 

Love, 

Maria